This week, former President Barack Obama spoke out against censorship and reminded those leading the charge to ban books that the right to free speech doesn’t just apply to people they agree with.
Book bans have become a hot topic in the 2024 presidential race. President Joe Biden called out “MAGA extremists” for increasing efforts to censor what we read in his 2024 reelection campaign announcement video. Meanwhile, Republican presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis is campaigning on making it easier to challenge books in schools.
And now Obama is weighing in. In a July 17 open letter addressed to the “dedicated and hardworking librarians of America,” the former president thanked them for their service in the face of growing calls by conservatives to censor certain titles, particularly those by authors from marginalized communities.
“In America, the First Amendment of our Constitution states that freedom begins with our capacity to share and access ideas—even, and maybe especially, the ones we disagree with. More often than not, someone decides to write those ideas down in a book,” he wrote. “It’s no coincidence that these “banned books” are often written by or feature people of color, indigenous people, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.”
The former president went on to share how reading other’s stories helped him develop the empathy that has inspired his life of public service.
“Reading about people whose lives were very different from mine showed me how to step into someone else’s shoes. And the simple act of writing helped me develop my own identity — all of which would prove vital as a citizen, as a community organizer, and as president,” he wrote.
And in true Obama fashion, he closed his letter with a call to action to defend the right to the free exchange of ideas.
“Finally, to every citizen reading this, I hope you’ll join me in reminding anyone who will listen — and even some people you think might not — that the free, robust exchange of ideas has always been at the heart of American democracy. Together, we can make that true for generations to come,” he wrote.
Damn, I miss him.